Pickleball Points

This week, I want to write about balance. You need to balance your life, because only playing pickleball can make Jack and Jill sour pickles. But that’s not this week’s tip. I’m also not going to talk about pickleball paddle balance this week, but it is very important.

Lots of readers have developed sore shoulders playing with paddles that are poorly balanced or constructed. I’ll take that on another time, especially if you send me an email telling me you are interested.

I’ve also spent much time these past few months stressing the importance of body balance at the moment you hit the ball in pickleball... or golf... or tennis. I recently had some greatly-improved pickleball players thank me for bringing to their attention how important footwork and balance has been to their game improvement. So folks are reading and, even better, understanding.

No — this week, I am talking about leg-strength balance. As I returned to the pickleball courts and started to practice, I discovered I had lost the ability to make that important quick first step forward, right or left. Isn’t it interesting that we routinely have our tires balanced on our old broken-down automobiles but pay little attention to our legs being in balance? How about that for symbolism?

Pay attention, readers, as this might apply to you. After three surgeries, the last two being the left knee and left hip, I discovered my left leg strength was much weaker than my right leg. It was this being out of balance that had likely contributed to my right Achilles damage. So, if you have had surgery, you might unknowingly find yourself in the same position.

When surgeons send us home after surgery, they must think we are going to sit on the couch and watch soap operas or reruns of “Lassie.” Little do they realize that most of us play and exercise at a fairly high level of performance for two or three hours a day. To heck with those surgeons. I sought out our outstanding physical therapist, Bob Cairo at Tidewater Physical Therapy, who lettered in multiple sports in college. I knew he would understand how important my racket sports were to me.

Sure enough, he tested the strength in both legs and ankles, and they were seriously out of balance. He designed a series of very specific exercises to help me build muscle in my left leg comparable with the right. I had the perfect storm approaching for another serious leg or ankle injury — a weak left leg and a weak right ankle. Together, they potentially could create another emergency-room visit, and certainly less-than-enjoyable pickleball.

Anticipation of your opponent’s shot is critical in getting into position for an incoming ball, but you need the leg power to take that first quick step from the balls of your feet.

I have mentioned before that in the 1970s, I was sitting with Jimmy Evert in Holiday Park, Fla., watching his daughter Chris while talking about a contract eventually worth millions to his daughter. Jimmy, who was also her coach, said, “Watch! Chris can’t run.” I joked and said, “How much should I knock off her contract because she can’t run?”

He looked at me, and seriously said, “Nothing, because she has great anticipation, which always puts her in position for the next shot.” At dinner that night, he went on to emphasize the importance of anticipation and that very first step toward the ball.

Balance and footwork are linked, and I need to develop my legs once again. I have taken very seriously the exercises Bob Cairo designed for me. Thanks, Bob.

On a civic note: During the Vietnam War, I was the senior officer at a small base in Mississippi, and when there was a casualty in Vietnam who lived near me, I had to deliver the initial death notice at 6 a.m. the next morning after the soldier was confirmed killed, so the family didn’t learn about it via a news report.

This might have been once or twice a month, and one of them was a 33-year-old major who gave his life on his 488th mission as a forward air controller in a tiny Cessna, giving his life to save 300 trapped Americans — an act for which he posthumously received the Medal of Honor.

It was a heartbreaking job, and I still remember, more than a half-century later, trying to steel myself before I made that first knock on the door of the mother or wife. The day I knocked on that major’s door was the 6th birthday of his twin girls.

I was on the receiving end this past week. Two police officers from our fine Ocean View Police Department knocked on my door to inform me about a sibling. They were professional, kind, patient and helpful. This is just another aspect of their very difficult jobs, so make sure you thank them for their public service the next chance you get. Thank you, gentlemen, for all you do!

Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.